Out of the Shadows: 1982-1998: Jacqueline
I left to go abroad because both my mother and father were very poor. We lived in a very small village in the Republic of Benin. My father was a farmer and my mother used to cook food to sell. We lived on a very low income and one of my elder brothers had to leave home very young and go to live in Lagos, Nigeria so that he could earn money and send some home to support the family.
I also had to leave home and go to Lagos. I was eleven years old then and I had to work as a housekeeper. It was very hard living with a different family but the money I earned helped my Mom and Dad to support my siblings. Then my employer hit hard times and wasn’t able to pay the landlord in Lagos. He threw us all out but that was my chance because I decided that I didn’t want to do housework anymore. I went to my brother and asked him to help me get another job doing hair dressing but he wasn’t able to help me. So I went back to the agency and she said that she had a good job for me with a family that wanted to travel. I refused at first because I had got used to living in Lagos and I would be travelling a long way but it wasn’t my choice and she said the family are going to send me to school. At that time I couldn’t read or write so I was happy to hear that. I went to her house where she interviewed me. She liked me and when I saw the three children they were nice. Meanwhile, they have a chef, a cook, a housekeeper, a driver and the only job for me was to look after the children. Her husband was living in the UK. I worked for her in Lagos for three months and then we had everything organised to travel. Before we left Nigeria she signed a contract for me with my uncle. She arranged everything – I didn’t know what visa I got. She gave me a paper to sign but I didn’t know what I was signing because I couldn’t read or write. We went together to the Embassy and she got everything for me to travel with her. The passport was ready but I didn’t see it. She kept it.
I left my employer because everything in the contract she didn’t keep. She didn’t pay my salary, I had to do everything in the house as well as look after the chil-dren, housekeeper, clean the house and the car and clean the office. The office was in a different building.
Sometimes I had six children to look after because my employers’ friends would come to the house and leave their children so I had to look after all of them while my employer and her friends went out. One day when I took the little child to the nursery I was very unhappy and the teacher there asked me if I was alright. The little child said: “My mommy slapped her” so the teacher probably knew there was something wrong but she didn’t say anything that time. The first time she slapped me was at the airport when we arrived in the UK after one month holiday in Africa. It was cold and she told me to put on the jumper she had given to me but I hadn’t brought it with me because I had to go to the village to visit my family. As I left the village I forgot the jumper I was supposed to wear back to London. So she slapped me right there at the airport because of the jumper. After that she would hit me whenever she wanted to if I did something she didn’t like. About a month later the woman in the nursery said to me “If you’re not happy there are people who can help you. I can tell you where they are”. Things came to their worst point when my father was really ill. One of my cousins called me and gave me a number to call. Just as I picked up the phone to call back my employer grabbed it from me and said “You’re not allowed to use the phone in this house”. The woman at the nursery had given me a Kalayaan leaflet and I decided I was going to go there. I didn’t know anyone because my employer wouldn’t let me talk to anyone or meet anyone. She told me that English people don’t talk to anyone and if the police see me they’ll put me in prison. I couldn’t talk to anyone or see anyone – I was just suppressed all the time and abused. I packed few of my clothes in a black bin bag. I was leaving the house she was coming back from the office, so I put the bag in the bin as if it was rubbish and gave her the key to get into the house. God is so good. I then went to the nursery with the little child and told the teacher that I’d had enough I just want to get away. She called Kalayaan and gave me £20 and put me in a taxi. Sister Margaret was there at the time and she came to the corner of Holland Park and picked me up as the taxi didn’t know how to come to the Centre.
Kalayaan called my employer and asked for my passport but they said that they had sent it to the Nigerian embassy. That’s when I found out they had put a different name on my passport and my documents. They had said that I was her husband’s niece and that I was coming to stay with them – they didn’t say that I was coming to work for them. There was nothing to say that I was living in the country. It was a battle for me. Thank God for Kalayaan and Waling-Waling. They took me in and I slept on the floor of someone’s room for a night and then somewhere else another night and so on. They gave me food and this went on for three months. I was frightened of everything especially of the police. I had nothing to say who I was. I had to go and sign in at the police station every month. I was told I couldn’t work – how could I live without working? As a human being I have rights. I wanted to work and earn money and pay my tax and national insurance. I wanted to live as a normal person. It was very difficult to get a job without papers, but finally I was able to get a job in Stanmore for £100 a week – very low money and very far out - to work as a housekeeper and look after two children. I had to take transport to be in Kalayaan and to attend conferences and campaign for our rights.
I took a case against my employer with the help of Kalayaan for false imprisonment and not paying my wages and hitting and slapping me. My employer was brought up here – she knows the laws of this country and she shouldn’t have brought me in as her niece. Lawyers like Chris Randall and Jean Gould helped me in my case and Martin Penrose also. All tried their best – she denied everything. The case dragged on for nine years, the lawyers moved on, and in the end I settled with my employers. I ended up just getting the salary they owed me – no compensation. I couldn’t talk about the case. But I just wanted to move on.
With the grace of God I was able to overcome my problems. I started literacy and computer classes run by Kalayaan. I learned to read and write. I enrolled myself in Kensington and Chelsea College, attended evening classes and got Certificate Level 3 in English literacy and speaking. With the campaigning of Kalayaan and Waling-Waling we were able to win the campaign but I still had no documents. Four years after living here the Home Office sent me a letter to say that I could now work here. But I needed my documents. I had to write to my MP. Because I didn’t have my documents I couldn’t do anything. They sent my documents with the wrong name. I had to send them back again. It was so stressful. After two years I finally got papers with my own name. When I could hold the documents in my hand it was great. I could now go to Africa to apply for my passport and see my family and meet people and feel free. Before that it was only in Kalayaan I could feel free and happy. It was a relief but it was also a pain. It had been such a struggle for many years. When I got it the excitement was worn out. For nine years all I was doing was working but thank God I was able to help my parents and siblings by sending money home.
I became involved in the campaign because I knew that it wasn’t right for people to be treated so badly without any human rights. I didn’t want to come here but I was brought here as a worker and I should be treated as a worker. I came to work I should be treated as a worker. Some people had a worse situation than mine. Some were sexually abused and experienced even worse treatment than me and that’s why I wanted to campaign. We are all workers and none of us should be treated different than that, we should all have human rights as workers. I didn’t want people to have to go through what I had to. That’s why I wanted my employer to know that I was not her property, I was a human being. Other countries have their own rules, but my employer lived here in the UK and she knows what the rules in this country are. That’s why I fight for the campaign. We fight for justice, for human rights, and that’s why I joined the organisation. We should not be treated like dirt. I’m very grateful to Kalayaan for fighting for our human rights and for the vulnerable. We work and look after our employers’ children so that they can go out to work in their big job. At least they should recognise that we are workers, we are not slaves.
My first priority when we won the campaign was to go home and see my mom. My dad had passed away in 2004. I wasn’t able to go home for the funeral so when I got my passport I was eager to go home. I was working in Stanmore at the time and I told my employer that I needed to go home. They booked my ticket and paid for it. It was so nice to see my family again, but I felt a stranger in my own country. It was very painful seeing how everything had changed so much. I came back then and said I’ll make a new start. I studied again. But the main thing I wanted was to apply for my tax and national insurance. My employer in Stanmore paid national insurance for their daily worker, but they didn’t pay mine because until then I didn’t have my papers. I told my employer that I wanted to pay my tax and NI and contribute to the country but my employer kept stalling. Kalayaan arranged with HM Revenue and Customs that the employer need only pay tax and NI when the worker got their papers. I kept reminding them for nearly a year but they wouldn’t do it. Then I applied myself. They sent me a letter, but I found it torn up. I saw that there was a paper trail and could see my name and that it was from HM Revenue. I was horrified, I had slaved for these people for over five years and then they now have torn up my letter. When my employer came home from work I asked her why my letter was torn and in the bin. She had a big tantrum and insisted that I leave her house. I said I won’t go until she gives me notice. She called her husband who spoke to me. I then called the Transport & General Workers Union. Maureen Byrne answered the phone and she told me that I didn’t have to leave and they have to give me notice. He was listening in to the phone conversation and then he came back to me and said I needn’t leave until I found another job. I moved out, got another job and decided to live out. After that I worked as a daily house keeper. My new employer paid my tax and national insurance.
My main successes and achievements are that I am more confident in myself. I also am able to read and write and I now know my rights and can now access things easily. I can use the computer and all facilities. Most important I got married, have two beautiful children. I thank God I have a very good husband and fantastic children. At the moment I volunteer to help an old woman who is not very well. She was my neighbour – she lives alone and has no children. I help her to do shopping and I clean her flat. It’s like a gift for me to be able to help this woman. Her face lights up when she sees me coming and she smiles she is so happy to see me. She is in hospital now for over a month. It’s such a joy for me to be able to help her.